As you’ve probably heard, Mindfulness is all the rage right now. And if you haven’t heard, Mindfulness is all the rage right now. So what is mindfulness? According to Wikipedia, “Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices.” Basically it’s about living in the now. It’s a great skill to hone and really helps with stress reduction, focusing and becoming more production. It sounds easy, but it’s not always.
Personally, I’ve always had a bit of a psychological block to the word ‘meditation’, and I’m not just sure why. And if you’re like me, when you’re told to do some sort of really amazing, wonderful, life changing practice and then given instructions which include the words ‘sit quietly and meditate’ you are as good as checked out from that point forward. You can’t imagine how long it took me to just be able to do the ‘lay still and do nothing part at the end of a yoga class’ referred to as shavasana without sneaking in a few ab crunches or leg squeezes.
I guess I’m not so good at connecting with myself and being in the moment while laying prone, and motionless on the floor, which probably means it’s something I really need to work on, but that’s another topic for another day. I do, however, believe there are really helpful and effective mindfulness exercises that do not involve meditation – well maybe they do in some way, shape, or form, but I’m just going to tell myself they don’t – at least until I’m more enlightened.
I’ve had quite a bit of experience through my work as a therapist in treating mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and stress management and what’s clear is that many people struggle with getting caught up and sometimes unnecessarily worked up with their own negative and upsetting thoughts. We often believe that our thoughts are an accurate, incontestable and objective portrayal of reality, and the good news is that this is not always true.
I’m going to try and not get too heady and philosophical on you now, so stay with me. Quite simply, our thoughts are just that. Thoughts. They are our perception of what’s happening in that particular moment and are also subject to change. Again, that’s the good news – they are likely and almost always guaranteed to change. The down side is that sometimes our thoughts are unhelpful and at least somewhat inaccurate or unproductive ways of viewing what’s going on around us, which can make us feel pretty crummy – especially if we’re already in a foul mood.
So next time you notice yourself feeling bad, mad, sad, frustrated or angry try this simple exercise: Tune in to what you’re thinking about that’s causing you to feel said unpleasant emotions, and instead of saying to yourself something like “everyone is out to get me,” or “I’m never going to find a job I like,” or “It’s too hard to get healthy and take care of myself,” or whatever it is that you’re thinking about that’s spinning you in to a state of no good, simply change one little thing.
And no, I’m not going to tell you to look on the bright side or count your blessings or play the glad game (not that any of those are bad things). But not today.
I am, however, going to tell you to simply re-start and re-state your thought by saying “I notice I’m having the thought that…” For example: “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m never going to find a job I like,” or ”I notice I’m having that thought that everyone is out to get me,” or “I notice I’m having the thought that it’s too hard to get healthy and take care of myself.”
The other day I was awoken much MUCH earlier than usual by my 18-month-old daughter who figured it was a good idea to wake up before sunrise and NOT go back to sleep no matter what I did. When this happened I remember thinking “Oh no, today is going to be a really hard day because both of us are going to be so tired and cranky.” This thought immediately made me feel really defeated and discouraged.
Quickly though, I caught myself and just simply changed that thought to: “No, I notice I’m having the thought that today is going to be a really hard day.” It was just that: a thought. And if I’d stuck to it I probably would have stayed feeling defeated and discouraged and then approached the day from this negative perspective which likely then would have become a self-fulfilled prophesy. Instead, just by calling the thought out as just a thought, it was amazing. I immediately started to feel much more relaxed and relieved and it automatically made me feel a lot more empowered and in control as opposed to feeling doomed to a hard day – which was actually not even guaranteed to happen.
Since then I have been catching myself and making this exercise a more regular practice and have been noticing big changes in how I react to any unhelpful thoughts that sneak in there and try to grab hold.
Try it and see what happens. What do you notice? It might not make you go from boo hoo to woo hoo! in 3 seconds flat, but it will give you a little space from your thoughts, make you feel quite a bit better and help remind you that this is just what you’re thinking right now, and the day is actually not doomed… unless you want it to be.